The Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area is located in northwestern Indiana along the boundary of Porter and Starke Counties. The property, owned and managed by Indiana?s Department of Natural Resources, encompasses over 4,000 acres of land at the confluence of the Kankakee and Yellow Rivers. This relatively small area represents a small fragment of the former Grand Kankakee Marsh, which once covered hundreds of thousands of acres and supported one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife in the United States.
The habitat at the Kankakee FWA comprises mostly riparian and floodplain forest along with some emergent marshes, replanted prairie, and upland woodlots. Additionally, sections of nearby agricultural fields are seasonally flooded to attract wildlife in the spring and fall.
During early spring and late fall, the flooded fields adjacent to the narrowly separated Kankakee and Yellow Rivers create stopover habitat for large congregations of migrant geese, ducks, and cranes. Daily waterfowl populations often total thousands of individuals, with relatively uncommon to rare species for the state, including Ross?s Goose, occurring annually on the property. Peak counts for Sandhill Cranes have reached 4000 birds during early spring, and at least two of the introduced Whooping Cranes have been present on the property over the past few years.
Depending on the amount of snowmelt and rainfall each spring, the flooded habitats around the Kankakee and Yellow Rivers can support some of the largest inland congregations of migratory shorebirds in Indiana. Maximum counts of American Golden-Plover, a WatchList species, have exceeded 400 individuals in late April, and a single-day count of 5600 Pectoral Sandpipers in the spring of 1998 remains one of the largest tallies historically of any shorebird species in Indiana. Yellowlegs species, Solitary Sandpiper, Dunlin, and Wilson?s Snipe often congregate during April and May along the Kankakee watershed as well.
One of the best features of the Kankakee FWA, though, is the wooded riparian habitat along the two rivers, which supports a diverse community of breeding neotropical migratory birds. The property?s location in northern Indiana combined with flora more characteristic of southern Indiana help concentrate bird species typical of both latitudes at this one locale. Nesting Acadian Flycatchers, Northern Parulas, and Yellow-throated Warblers are found here along with Veeries, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, American Redstarts, and the occasional Least Flycatcher. Kankakee FWA also maintains the largest breeding population of Prothonotary Warblers in northern Indiana, which likely numbers at least 30 pair, and provides some of the last habitat suitable in the region for Wood Thrush. Both of these species are included on Audubon?s WatchList.